"The right-wing media is really excited about the new scoop from Eli Lake, national security columnist for Bloomberg View. As connoisseurs of President Trump’s Twitter feed know, in the alternative reality inhabited by the president and his admirers, the central scandal rocking Washington is not about Trump’s possible connections to Russia and what it means for its meddling in our election. Rather, it’s about the potential ‘unmasking’ of Trump campaign figures that may have been caught up in incidental surveillance of foreign targets. ‘Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends,’ Trump tweeted on Monday morning. ‘ ‘Spied on before nomination.’ The real story.’ Thus it was a big deal when Lake reported that Susan Rice, President Obama’s former national security adviser, had sought to identify Trump associates inadvertently recorded in American surveillance operations. Suddenly, Trump’s ‘real story’ had a villainess. Soon #SusanRice was trending on Twitter.
‘White House lawyers last month learned that the former national security adviser Susan Rice requested the identities of U.S. persons in raw intelligence reports on dozens of occasions that connect to the Donald Trump transition and campaign, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter,’ Lake’s piece begins. Sounds scandalous! At least, it does unless you read down to the ninth paragraph, which says, ‘The standard for senior officials to learn the names of U.S. persons incidentally collected is that it must have some foreign intelligence value, a standard that can apply to almost anything. This suggests Rice's unmasking requests were likely within the law.’
That means that even if Lake’s reporting, which relies on two anonymous sources, is completely correct, Rice did nothing wrong. There is no ‘unmasking’ scandal. The whole thing is bullshit, a reality TV storyline jointly spun by Republicans and the right-wing media. It’s a clever bit of misdirection and mystification meant to do two things. First, it’s supposed to validate the president’s March 4 tweet claiming that Obama put a ‘tapp’ on his phone during the presidential campaign, though it does no such thing. Second, the ‘unmasking’ drama is meant to make it seem as if the real scandal lies in the investigation into the Trump team’s foreign contacts—which Trump would have us believe was politically motivated—and not the contacts themselves."